Study Guide

The Captives

by Plautus

The Captives Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Hegio is a wealthy Aetolian who many years before lost a son, Tyndarus, when a runaway slave named Stalagmus carried the boy off at the age of four years. Later, during a war with Elis, his other son, Philopolemus, is captured and made a slave by the Elians. In an effort to rescue Philopolemus, Hegio buys up prisoners of war captured by the Aetolian army, hoping to find a wealthy young Elian whom he could exchange for his own son. He spends a great deal of money without finding a suitable prisoner. Mourning his son’s loss with him is a parasite, Ergasilus, a favorite of Hegio’s son and the recipient of many free meals.

One day, entirely by accident, Hegio buys a pair of prisoners of whom one, unbeknownst to him, is the son stolen years before. Tyndarus is now the slave of Philocrates, a wealthy Elian prisoner. Philocrates and Tyndarus change clothing and names, hoping by that ruse to get Philocrates set free to return to Elis. The ruse works, for Hegio allows Philocrates to return to Elis and arranges for an exchange of his own son for Philocrates’ “master.” Shortly afterward, Hegio, while visiting at his brother’s home, finds a slave there named Aristophontes, who claims to be a friend of Philocrates. To satisfy himself as to the identity of his hostage and to do a kindness to both prisoners, Hegio takes Aristophontes home with him. At Hegio’s home, Aristophontes lays bare the ruse that was played on Hegio. At first, Tyndarus, still posing as Philocrates, tries to complete the plan by claiming that Aristophontes is mad, but Hegio soon becomes aware that Tyndarus is not Philocrates. In his anger, Hegio has Tyndarus, actually his own son but whom his father does not recognize, sent to the stone quarries, with orders that he is to be worked hard for the trick he played on his new owner.

The parasite Ergasilus, meanwhile, is going hungry in the...

(The entire section is 767 words.)